All job hunters hear the advice to “stand out,” “be different,” and “separate yourself from the crowd.”
But what exactly does that mean with regard to your job search? Do you send a fruit basket to your interviewer? Record a video of a company cheer you composed? Or maybe you just try to be your “best self”—whatever that means!
Here’s the scoop: You will face competition when applying to most jobs, so the greater the gap you create between you and your fellow applicants, the better. But it’s important to remember that there’s a right way to stand out and a wrong way.
To help you determine how to stand out successfully (and this can vary by industry and position), we’ve developed three rules. Before we jump into them, let’s take a look at two sales manager job applicants I encountered while working in HR for a major retail chain.
Both prospects wanted to “stand out” in the interview process. Applicant A submitted a prospective sales plan, laid out in 30, 60, and 90 days. While some of the specifics of her proposal were a bit off, overall, it was a solid plan that showed creative, analytical thinking.
Applicant B affixed her resume with an 8-by-10 photo of herself. After all, what better way to stay top of mind? Well, Applicant B was memorable, all right, but not in the positive way she’d hoped for. Her move cost her the chance to even interview.
Standing out requires risk taking by nature, but you can mitigate that risk by asking yourself the following three questions to make sure you’re making the impression that’ll lead to an interview and job offer:
1. Is It Relevant?
Being unique purely for the sake of individuality is useless. Find a way to stand out that’s relevant to the company and to the opportunity you’re interviewing for.
Do this. One of our clients, Laurel, a huge Seattle Mariners fan, was looking for a new position in social media. She took her interest and capitalized on it to create a social media and publicity campaign to get the Mariners’ attention and convince them she was the best person for a social media marketing position. She snagged an interview, even though she had less experience than many of the other candidates.
See how this outside-the-box thinking works? You have to consider your industry and what you can do to demonstrate in a way that goes beyond the bullet points on your resume how you’d be an asset.
2. Is It Valuable?
Whatever your plan for standing out, it must further your cause in some way. This rule is why just emailing 100 times or calling 10 times a day after your interview isn’t going to pay off.
Do this. Matt Hirsch, another client, hoped to make a statement following an interview for a graphic design position he really wanted.
His idea? He created a “Hirschy” chocolate bar wrapper that was perfectly tailored to the role. The list of “ingredients” included the graphic programs he’s well-versed in, and the end result was simply a perfectly creative way to illustrate his skill set and show that he knows how to go above and beyond.
Sending a thank you note after your interview is essential, but when competition is fierce, you’d be wise to think about the other ways your follow up can help you stand out.
3. Is It Authentic?
The problem with gimmicks is that they’re, well, gimmicky. They don’t ring true or feel authentic.
So before you rent a sky writer or send your interviewer a CD of your “greatest hits,” make sure your scheme rings true for you and your personality. Whatever plan you pursue, it should share a new dimension of your personality or shed light on a part of your resume you want the hiring manager to understand in greater detail.
Do this. Yet another client, Eric, thought he might be really interested in the solar industry. He created a blog with the intent to write articles that allowed him to investigate whether or not he really wanted to be a part of that field. As it turned out, the website also gave him complete freedom to contact CEOs of solar companies to get their perspective on recent changes affecting their business.
He then went a step further and published the resulting article on his website. This authentic and completely legit tactic allowed him to investigate the industry, but more than that, it put him in contact with a dozen potential employers.
Consider how you can both be true to yourself and leave a lasting impression that’ll result in getting you hired.
As you can see, standing out doesn’t have to be expensive or super complicated—after all, in some cases, time is of the essence—it just needs to be real and different in the right way. A typo-free, polished resume is great, and a stellar cover letter is awesome too, but when you need to rise to the top of promising candidates, you’re going to want to take things a step further.
Brainstorm some ideas, and then put them through the three guidelines above to ensure you’re hitting the right notes. It can be helpful to enlist the help of an exceedingly honest friend at this stage.